INGLEWOOD – One recent afternoon, Tina Singh watched nearly a dozen students at a suburban Los Angeles truck driving school back up their training vehicles into parking lots. Many had never used a manual transmission before.
“It’s an exciting time to be a truck driver right now because there is so much demand for drivers,” said Singh, the school principal. “Our sites are busy, and they are very dynamic with a lot of activity.”
Business is booming at the California Truck Driving Academy amid a nationwide shortage of long-haul drivers that has led to promises of high wages and instant job offers. Inglewood School has seen its annual enrollment increase by almost 20% since last year and has expanded to offer evening classes.
“Everything in this country goes by truck at one point or another,” Singh said. “And so, you know, you need truck drivers to move goods.”
The United States is short of about 80,000 drivers due to a convergence of factors, according to Nick Vyas, executive director of the Marshall Center for Global Supply Chain Management at the University of Southern California.
Consumer spending is 15% higher than it was in February 2020, just before the pandemic crippled the economy. Production has grown nearly 5% in the past year as US factories scramble to meet increased demand for goods, according to the Federal Reserve. Imports narrowed the gap.
At the same time, many American workers decided to quit jobs that required frequent public contact. This created shortages of workers to unload ships, transport goods and personnel retail stores.
In California, the strained supply chain is pictured at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where dozens of ships wait offshore to be unloaded. The average wait is almost 17 days, despite 24-hour port operations starting in October.
The lack of drivers at ports has helped fuel the rise of the nearby California Truck Driving Academy, where instructors in reflective vests keep watch while students practice leading large platforms around a fenced paved land.
“You’re kind of helping the community and making money at the same time,” said student Thierno Barry. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Barry, 23, was happy to be behind the wheel on his first day, despite several orange safety cones.
“I feel good, especially during the pandemic,” he said.
Meanwhile, the school faces its own shortage of truck driving instructors.